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Hard to find fault in such a beautiful film.

Yet another teen fiction story is brought to life on the big screen, but this time action and adventure aren’t the names of the game. Well, an adventure takes place, but not in the way the audience might expect.

Hot off her most recent foray into the young adult movies-based-on-novels genre apparent in this generation, Shailene Woodley gives the best performance of her career thus far as 16-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster, a home-schooled Indianapolis teen suffering from thyroid cancer. Not suffering from “dying,” as she so bluntly puts it. While taking classes at a community college after finishing her GED, Hazel has become cynical in her struggle, but not too cold as the story progressively shows.

At a time when most kids are facing adolescent pressures like acne and college applications, Hazel carries an oxygen tank connected to a nose tube to keep the “cancer colony” inside her from filling her lungs with fluid. Along with constantly rereading her favorite book about a child with a similar affliction, she has given up on wishing for happier times.

On the encouragement of her parents to battle a depression she is unknowingly facing, Hazel joins a local support group, which fares none too well with her expectations. More cancer patients, more typical stories, more empty feelings of love.

But Hazel and the audience are in for a surprise. At one meeting on screen, she catches the attention of 18-year-old Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), an osteosarcoma (bone cancer) survivor whose own sacrifices have left him with one leg and an unbelievably positive, yet realistic, outlook on life. Gus immediately takes a shine to her and the unhappy tone of Hazel’s story detours into a series of fortunate (and unfortunate) events filled with happy thoughts, an epic journey, and a pleasant teenage love story punctuated by sincere performances by the two leads.

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The rest you’ll just have to see, as no article can do it justice.  Stories brought to the screen about a fictitious character dying from cancer or another ailment tend to be a bit on the heart-string-pulling side. This one, surprisingly, is not. At least, that’s not its motif. Yes, there are several events that might evoke feelings of grief, but for every one sad scene, there are at least three jovial moments of the film to make up for it, even when the inevitable misfortunes of cancer patients come to light.

For those wondering, the title is a reference to a Shakespearean quote alluding to the flaws of man, as was a focus of much of the playwright’s work. And this masterful adaptation of the 2012 bestseller is sure to be a lesson in humility for anyone suffering from any ailment, whether it be a life-threatening illness or a depressive heartbreak. Once it is allowed to be what it is, no audience member can resist its genuine charm and heart.

Screenwriters Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter go to great lengths to preserve John Green’s young adult novel in its transcription. Up and coming director Josh Boone makes a terrific splash on the feature side of filmmaking as well. And the actors couldn’t shine brighter, from Naked Brothers Band actor Nat Wolff to a well-placed Willem Dafoe as a jaded, drunken author. Fans of the book are sure to be overjoyed.

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Woodley and Elgort are the perfect onscreen couple for this story. Their chemistry is organically undaunted and the progression of their romance emphasizes their relationship, with the flaws of their conditions put on the back burner. Elgort perfectly embodies Gus’s carefree attitude while Woodley executes her character growth with genuine charisma and an unfailing empathy for her situation.

While it may be a bit early to talk awards season, watch for an acting nod toward either or both of the leads. Woodley previously showed great promise in 2011’s The Descendants, and revisits her teenage angst side while creating a brand new character in Hazel Grace. The script is marvelously written and executed with exceptional bravado, especially on the side of young Elgort (who previously starred alongside Woodley in Divergent).

Not much else can be said for The Fault in Our Stars. Much more than a film to be seen and heard, this is a film to be felt. In the same way certain afflicted character stories might progress (e.g. Philadelphia, I Am Sam), you need to let this one in in order to experience its true magic. It is witty, edgy, unpredictable, and leaves its viewers with a sense of gratitude rather than a sense of hope for the characters they spend 125 minutes getting to know. It is not to be missed.
Stars: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell

About The Author

Contributing Writer

Herbert M. Shaw began writing movie reviews for his high school newspaper and hasn't stopped since. In 2005, his radio program "The Shaw Report" was started with WCDB Albany 90.9 FM in Albany, New York, and lives on with online streaming at www.wcdbfm.com. In addition to film and TV reviews, Herbert also covers a variety of pop culture events surrounding technology, gaming, and the arts. He has covered every single New York Comic Con since 2006, and writes an annual Oscar prediction guide.